WHEN Alan Pardew spoke of the need to send out a “thinking team” at Anfield, he could not have imagined the educated feet of his classy captain would be responsible for the most retrograde moment of a harum-scarum match.
That is Newcastle United’s season in a nutshell: a pleasantly surprising step forward matched by an equally shocking step back.
Call it inconsistency, bad fortune or an anxiety-inducing tendency to shoot themselves in the foot – whatever it is, it is holding back the much-vaunted black-and-white tilt for the top four.
It was certainly the case here, where a hard-earned point at a ground where Newcastle have not won for nearly two decades was sullied by three worrying injuries and the surprising spectre of Fabricio Coloccini’s defensive halo slipping in front of a TV audience which recoiled at his ugly challenge on the irresistible Luis Suarez.
For the first time in eight years, Newcastle took something from Anfield.
However, alongside Yohan Cabaye’s spectacular opener and a point which keeps them nestled in among the chasing pack, they also travelled back from the north west with the nagging uncertainty which comes from losing Coloccini and James Perch for the foreseeable future.
The sight of Shane Ferguson and Vurnon Anita anchoring the Newcastle midfield is hardly going to soothe concerns about United’s ability to move on from this inconsistent start.
In reality they are paying for not having their big players available for big matches like this one.
Coloccini has started only five games this season while Cheick Tioté, kicking his heels back home in Newcastle after his Tyne-Wear misdemeanour, has made only five starts.
Games together? Only one this year – and thanks to Tioté’s red card they didn’t finish it in tandem. No wonder the team is lacking “fluency and rhythm.”
In truth, it felt like Coloccini was the architect of his own downfall, much like Newcastle on a day when they dared to dream of reversing two decades of misery in this fixture.
The Newcastle skipper is very rarely ruffled but Suarez – who was unplayable according to Brendan Rodgers – had twisted him one too many times when he launched into a studs-high challenge which warranted a red card.
It was most unlike Coloccini, who usually exudes a regal air of authority and Pardew (pictured left) doubted the intent of his skipper to wound the striker.
He had an issue with TV pundit Chris Coleman’s lamentable assessment of it as a “coward’s challenge” even if the Newcastle boss may have to accept the three-game ban which will accompany his moment of madness. At least Newcastle took a point, which could not be taken for granted right up to the 94th minute of an absorbing clash between two teams still looking to stamp their authority on the campaign.
United began sluggishly, improved before the break and then dug in to earn only their sixth point from a possible 57 on this stadium.
It was acceptable, but hardly the great leap forward Pardew had been hoping for after a week of solid work on shape and systems before the game.